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Food & Cooking

In Greece, Olive Oil Remains Absent from Restaurant and Tavern Tables

The use of bulk olive oil in cruets for customer consumption has been banned in eateries since 2018. However, sealed, non-refillable bottles have failed to replace them.
The Gate of Athena Archegetis in Roman Agora, Athens
By Costas Vasilopoulos
Aug. 7, 2023 14:07 UTC

Every sum­mer, mil­lions of vaca­tion­ers from around the world flock to Greece to enjoy the gor­geous beaches, visit the count­less ancient sites and mon­u­ments and taste authen­tic dishes of Greek cui­sine.

With extra vir­gin olive oil con­sti­tut­ing the basis of vir­tu­ally every food prepa­ra­tion in Greece, the country’s cui­sine is one of the most char­ac­ter­is­tic man­i­fes­ta­tions of the cel­e­brated Mediterranean diet.

There are no olive oil cruets on restau­rant tables since they have been banned, and usu­ally no bot­tles of branded olive oil due to the added cost.- Yiorgos Economou, gen­eral direc­tor, Sevitel

However, in eater­ies across the coun­try, locals and tourists have no olive oil avail­able when look­ing to add extra fla­vor to their food; olive oil for cus­tomer con­sump­tion has been steadily dis­ap­pear­ing from restau­rant and tav­ern tables in Greece since 2018, becom­ing almost extinct nowa­days.

Legislation intro­duced that year required the com­monly used cruets of bulk olive oil avail­able on restau­rant tables to be replaced by tam­per-proof, non-refill­able bot­tles of branded vir­gin or extra vir­gin olive oil.

See Also:Dakos, the Cretan Meze, Is Having a Moment

The reg­u­la­tion was pro­posed by mar­ket oper­a­tors rea­son­ing that small, non-reusable bot­tles would pro­mote qual­ity Greek olive oil and pre­vent con­sumers in mass cater­ing estab­lish­ments from using oils of dubi­ous qual­ity.

Under the new law, each serv­ing in restau­rants, hotels, or tav­erns should be accom­pa­nied by a sealed bot­tle of vir­gin or extra vir­gin olive oil — usu­ally 50 mil­li­liters or 100 mil­li­liters – to be opened at the table.

The Confederation of Craftsmen and Merchants (GSEBEE) hailed the mea­sure as an oppor­tu­nity for the olive oil sec­tor to increase its sales. According to esti­mates, around 10,000 tons of Greek olive oil would be required annu­ally to fill the sealed bot­tles that would adorn the tables in eater­ies across the coun­try.

However, food estab­lish­ments in Greece have been slow to adopt the rule, mainly due to the added cost, which some restau­ra­teurs chose to pass on to their cus­tomers.

Unfortunately, we have to charge for the sealed olive oil bot­tles, whose price starts from about €1 for 50 mil­li­liters — which is absurd if one takes into account that olive oil is an essen­tial part of the diet and a basic food,” restau­rant owner Ioannis Kouzoupis told Olive Oil Times in September 2018, almost six months after the new leg­is­la­tion had come into force.

Yiorgos Economou, the gen­eral direc­tor of Sevitel, the asso­ci­a­tion of Greek olive oil bot­tlers, noted that olive oil for cus­tomer con­sump­tion is now com­pletely absent from the country’s food-serv­ing out­lets.

There are no olive oil cruets on restau­rant tables since they have been banned, and usu­ally no bot­tles of branded olive oil due to the added cost,” Economou told Olive Oil Times. When cus­tomers ask for extra olive oil on their food, their dish is usu­ally returned to the kitchen for top­ping up.”

To curb the incurred costs, an amend­ment to the leg­is­la­tion in 2020 allowed restau­ra­teurs to use non-refill­able bot­tles of up to 500 mil­li­liters, which would remain on the table until emp­tied, regard­less of how many cus­tomers used it.

However, three years later, the amend­ment remains largely uncom­mu­ni­cated and unex­ploited by eater­ies in the coun­try, depriv­ing din­ers of added nutri­ents and an extra touch of fla­vor in their sal­ads and Greek olive oil pro­duc­ers of an addi­tional sales out­let.

It was the mix of the Covid-19 lock­downs, the ongo­ing food price infla­tion and the recent energy cri­sis that under­mined the ini­tia­tive of plac­ing branded olive oil on restau­rant tables,” Yiorgos Kavathas, a restau­ra­teur and head of the Panhellenic Association of Restaurants and Associated Professions (POESE), told Olive Oil Times.

Nevertheless, It is a require­ment of the rel­e­vant mar­ket rule that eater­ies in the coun­try make olive oil avail­able to their cus­tomers,” Kavathas said, adding that the association’s inten­tion is for branded olive oil to reemerge on restau­rant and tav­ern tables.

See Also:Campaign in Crete Urges Hospitality Establishments to Choose Local Olive Oils

A cam­paign should be launched for branded Greek olive oil to reclaim its spot on restau­rant and tav­ern tables,” he con­tin­ued. I also believe that the extra cost for cus­tomers is neg­li­gi­ble.”

In a round­table dis­cus­sion held last autumn in Rethymnon, Crete, par­tic­i­pants also indi­cated that the use of glass bot­tles of 500 mil­li­liters is more finan­cially viable and envi­ron­men­tally friendly than the use of smaller 50- or 100-mil­li­liter bot­tles of olive oil for indi­vid­ual use.

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Experts at the dis­cus­sion said plac­ing olive oil in glass bot­tles of 500 mil­li­liters on restau­rant tables would have no real impact on the qual­ity of the oil even after one month of use.

Meanwhile, after inspec­tions by the author­i­ties, food estab­lish­ments in Athens and the south­ern town of Kyparissia were fined €500 each for plac­ing unbranded cruets of olive oil on their tables.

We have already started sweep­ing checks in hotels and food estab­lish­ments across Greece,” said Kostas Skrekas, the newly-appointed Greek min­is­ter for devel­op­ment. And we will go on. We have to pro­tect the Greek prod­ucts.”

Economou agreed that the law’s appli­ca­tion had weak­ened in the coun­try due to the pre­vail­ing socioe­co­nomic con­di­tions at the time.

The law of 2018 aimed to pro­mote branded Greek olive oil in eater­ies, and the 2020 amend­ment [allow­ing bot­tles of up to 500 mil­li­liters] was chiefly intro­duced to keep the costs down,” Economou said.

However, despite being a require­ment, the back­wash of the finan­cial cri­sis and the Covid-19 pan­demic shaped an unfa­vor­able envi­ron­ment for such a mea­sure to mate­ri­al­ize,” he added. The min­istry and the mar­ket oper­a­tors decided not to put an extra bur­den on the food-serv­ing sec­tor of the coun­try.”

Economou noted, how­ever, that din­ers’ use of branded Greek olive oil in restau­rants and tav­erns would ben­e­fit the coun­try.

We are con­tem­plat­ing dis­cussing with the min­istry how the mea­sure can be brought back,” he said. It will sig­nif­i­cantly con­tribute to the image of Greece and become the country’s ambas­sador to the 20 mil­lion for­eign tourists who visit our coun­try every year.”



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